Review: ‘For the Glory,’ New Biography of Eric Liddell

More than half of Hamilton’s book covers Liddell’s life after the period covered by the film “Chariots of Fire.”

With the Japanese invasion of China, Liddell and others were confined to concentration camps like Weihsien, where he worked hard and cared for fellow prisoners under difficult conditions. In his letters to Florence, Eric portrayed things more positively than they actually were in the camp. His health declined, and he was diagnosed as having had a nervous breakdown…What was unknown was that he had a brain tumor, which was the cause of his death at age 43 in 1945. The location of his grave is unknown.

 

For the Glory: Eric Liddell’s Journey from Olympic Champion to Modern Martyr by Duncan HamiltonPenguin Press. 400 pages. 2016.

Award-winning British sportswriter Duncan Hamilton has given us a wonderful gift in this new biography of Olympic Gold Medal runner, missionary and evangelist Eric Liddell, known as the Flying Scotsman and Flying Parson. Many of us know Liddell from the 1981 Academy Award winning film Chariots of Fire, which depicted his rivalry with Harold Abrahams at the 1934 Olympic Games, and which I watched again while reading this book.  More than half of Hamilton’s book covers Liddell’s life after the period covered by the film.

Liddell was born in China to missionary parents. His father was a minister and his mother a nurse. They were missionaries with the London Missionary Society (LMS). Liddell told people that he decided to be a missionary to China himself at age 8 or 9.  Eric and his two brothers and sister would later move to Scotland. Eric would only see his parents once between 1908 and 1920.

Liddell’s athletic mentor was Tom McKerchar and spiritual mentor D.P. Thompson, who first asked him to speak in churches, which he would do often.  Hamilton writes of his unique way of running with his head thrown back.

If you have seen the film, you know that in the 1924 Olympics, held in Paris, Liddell, favored in the 100 meters, chose not to run because the race was going to take place on a Sunday. He was criticized for his decision, but held fast to what he believed the Bible taught. Instead, he ran the 400 meter race on another day, setting a world record, winning with his unique way of running with his head thrown back.

Hamilton writes that Liddell had many opportunities to financially capitalize on his win, but instead chose to return to Tientsin, China to serve the Lord with the LMS, the same missionary organization as his father, who was still well-known and respected there.

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